When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson


This is my fourth Kate Atkinson book (Life After Life, A God in Ruins, and Case Histories) and I have loved each one. This one and Case Histories feature Jackson Brodie, a former policeman who became a private investigator. The appeal of all her books for me are the characters that you come to love, however improbable they are.

There’s Reggie, a teenager who manages to live on her own after her mother dies. She works as a mother’s helper for a kindly, warm-hearted, perfect-in-every-way doctor whose only mistake was to marry a small-time bumbling crook. Reggie studies the classics–she has ambitions–with a dying (and dotty) woman, Ms. MacDonald. A train derailment occurs on a track just behind the house where Reggie is dog-sitting for Ms. MacDonald. She goes to help and saves the life of Jackson Brodie at the horrific scene. He is taken to the hospital and has temporary amnesia and doesn’t know that his ID has been switched by a murderer just released from prison. The murderer had killed the mother and two siblings of the perfect doctor when she was a child. It is assumed he will be coming back to finish his task of wiping out the family. This brings me to another feature of this book:  coincidences are rampant. The characters go about their business as if this all makes sense.

Jackson Brodie, in this and Case Histories, goes against type of detective fiction policemen/investigators. In this book he more often seems to be acted upon, rather than being the actor. An old love interest of his turns up in this book; Louise is a policewoman who would much rather work than spend time with her kindly husband, especially if his relatives are visiting. She’s not good with the work/life balance thing.

This is a 624-page book (I never tired listening to it) and it has lots of plot lines which have tangential connections. It is complicated and impressive and often funny. Much of the action takes place in Scotland and so it was a treat to listen to this book.

Kate Atkinson, When Will There Be Good News?, Little, Brown and Company, 2008, 624 pages (I listened to the audiobook). Available at the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.

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